A Brief History
On November 4, 1924, the citizens of Wyoming took the historic step of electing the first woman governor of any state in the United States. This should not have been too much of a surprise, as Wyoming was also the first state to allow women to vote on December 10, 1869, a date that is celebrated in Wyoming as “Wyoming Day.” Furthermore, in 1889, Wyoming passed a state constitution that specifically stated that women had the right to vote, the first such clause in any constitution in world history.
So, who exactly was the first female U.S. governor? Well, her name was Nellie Tayloe Ross. She was born in 1876 (the USA’s centennial year) and had attended 2 years of education preparation training college prior to becoming a kindergarten teacher. She was married to William Ross of Tennessee, a democratic politician who became the governor of Wyoming in 1922. Meanwhile, Nellie was an avid supporter of prohibition.
When William Ross died of complications following appendectomy surgery in 1924, Wyoming voters elected his widow to the top job in the state. Nellie Ross served from January of 1925 to January of 1927, and along with continuing her husband’s agendas of lowering taxes and helping farmers and poor people, she also was an advocate of children, women workers and mine workers. Among her favorite causes was a Federal amendment to outlaw child labor in the U.S.
Ross narrowly lost the reelection in 1926, probably because of her refusal to campaign and because of her support of prohibition. She stayed active in democratic politics after leaving office, however, and in 1933, was appointed Director of the U.S. Mint, a position she held until 1953. After leaving government service, Ross traveled extensively and wrote articles for magazines. She died in Washington, D.C. in 1977, at the age of 101, the oldest surviving governor in the U.S. at that point. Her final resting place is appropriately in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Wyoming has not yet elected another woman to the governorship, but other states have, with 36 women having served as governor of a state or Puerto Rico (some of whom were appointed for partial terms, not elected). The first woman to be elected governor of a state who was not the wife or widow of the previous governor was Ella Grasso of Connecticut, who was elected in 1975. As of 2014, there are currently 5 women serving as a U.S. state’s governor.
History and Headlines Fact: In 1909, Carolyn Shelton served as acting governor of Oregon for only one weekend! Incredibly, this was 3 ½ years before Oregon allowed women to vote.
History and Headlines Fact: Sarah Palin, so far the youngest and only female governor of Alaska, was the first woman governor to give birth while in office in 2008. Palin also became the first female governor to run on a major party ticket for Vice President of the U.S. and only the second woman to have run on a major party ticket for that office.
Women in the United States have had the right to vote since 1920, and today they are a major force in elections. With increasing numbers of women in state and local governments, Congress and the Federal Government, it is only a matter of time before a woman is elected President of the United States. When and who do you think that will be?
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